/ 22 February 2019

On a mission to increase tourism’s contribution to GDP

South African Tourism chief executive Sisa Ntshona
South African Tourism chief executive Sisa Ntshona

Tourism is the fastest-growing sector globally. China is currently the largest source market for tourism, whereas Paris sits comfortably as the number one tourist destination in the world.These metrics go on to influence where infrastructure investment occurs, as a number of businesses literally go where the most visitors, or feet, are. The chief executive of SA Tourism, Sisa Ntshona, gives us a snapshot of the possibilities in the industry and how we all have a role to play in taking South Africa Inc to the next level.

Q: Meetings Africa, the 14th instalment, is around the corner. How valuable is the conference and what is your involvement as SA Tourism?

The area we are responsible for as SA Tourism is not just leisure, but business as well. The meeting represents a national display and celebration of both our capacity as well as our competency as a tried and tested meeting place for organisations, conventions and other ventures. The capacity of attendees is incredible and gives us a huge opportunity to build on past success while getting ready to do more ground-breaking work in tourism through the MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) space.

Q: Explain the thinking behind this year’s theme, Shared Economies.

The theme of Shared Economies is in line with the growth possibilities that come with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. At the same time, we are looking at the sustainability aspect in terms of the big environmental impact that it is going to have. It is about the sharing of ideas, not only on the day but what happens afterwards in terms of ongoing innovation in South Africa and on the continent.

Q: What is the state of tourism in South Africa in terms of the challenges and opportunities?

Let me give you some context: As a nation we have decided that we need to diversify where our main sources of gross domestic product (GDP) come from. We have been a nation that has been heavily reliant on industries such as mining and manufacturing and although these are profitable, ouroverreliance on them is unsustainable and can be compromising when it comes to the volatility of commodity markets. Tourism’s direct contribution to GDP currently sits at 3%, and we are looking at increasing this into double digits. This is also in line with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s assertions about the growth potential of the tourism industry as articulated in the State of the Nation address. For example, we can grow by being more efficient with our visa processing systems and moving to the system of the e-visa, in line with global trends, by having our national airline foster direct routes to more parts of the world and, most importantly, working closely with government departments such as transport, safety and security, home affairs and many others to create a symbiotic system that positively impacts the industry.

Q: How is the impact of Meetings Africa measured in terms of the value it gives to those who attend?

We measure the value of the conference spend from the event. Its success also informs our global bidding objectives for future conferences. Tourism is about the experience — we cannot measure it by revenue like a general business — it has a lot more to do with sentiment and how that sentiment then translates into investment and growth.

Q: What makes you proud to be South African?

I love being a South African. Our secret weapon is not our weather or even our nature. It is our people and this is why we are committed to bringing more South Africans to share our tourism offerings. We do not have a national dish or a national language or even a national dress because our diversity is everything that we have to offer and more.

Q: What are some of the misconceptions that people have with regard to the tourism industry?

When people hear the word tourism, they do not immediately understand that it is business, business that brings in more than R120-billion a year into South Africa. More than that, it is perpetual and sustainable, unlike a mineral such as gold, for instance. The tourism economy is irrevocably embedded in other industries, so when one goes to the Diamond Walk in Sandton, for instance, and hears the accents of foreigners, this is an example of tourism that is also having an effect on retail. So, in as much as we have a lot of shopping centres in the country,those centres areserving a foreign market in addition to a South African one. Furthermore, tourism opens small, medium and micro enterprises up to export markets, thereby allowing them to bypass the need for global distribution chains. This is important.

Q: What are the strategic focus areas when it comes to the internal marketing of South Africa versus the external marketing of the country?

In terms of domestic tourism, we want people to have a stake in the country and explore it. We must understand that our violent apartheid history means that a lot of people had to travel with passes that restricted their movement, and so the culture of travel in South Africa is not as intuitive or as ingrained as it could be. Something like the Sho’t Left initiative is about discovering the beauty of the country and then coming back and imploring those around you to do the same. It is your country, after all — enjoy it! From an international perspective, we have 12 offices in different regions and our main target there is on international arrivals. We are working towards growing these from more than 10-million currently to more than 14-million by 2020.

Q: What does it mean for South Africans to be tourism ambassadors?

For tourism to grow holistically in South Africa all of us have to understand the role that this industry plays in the many economic value chains of the country and what a welcome contribution to the fiscus it actually is. At a simple level, it means taking the experience of South Africa into our own hands. Even when we stumble across a foreigner in a mall or at a restaurant, we should not be irritated or be negative towards them, but that we rather understand that this person is here, bringing foreign money to our country and contributing to it. It is really the little things – like being helpful to someone who does not know their way around in their time of need.

Q: What are you hoping people will take away from this year’s Meetings Africa forum?

Let me put it simply: knowledge is power. Come to listen and to understand and get a better sense of how the tourism value chain works and is changing. There will be thousands of people working on different elements of the conference, so come find your niche in this multibillion-rand sector.

Where Africa’s Mice industry intellectuals convene

Every day we wake up to a collection of collaborations taking place across Africa. From multi-million-dollar maritime deals spanning the continent that have seen thousands of jobs being created and boosting our continent’s economic development, to a unique public-private partnership between a global computer manufacturing company and a university, to fast-track access to world-class talent. Africa is indeed into collaboration and fruition.

As we continue with our powerful theme for Meetings Africa 2019 “Shared Economies”, we strongly believe this is the stance to advance and encourage collaboration in the Mice industry (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) in Africa.

“The theme translates to the realisation of cross-business trade exchange. This will create economies of scale in Africa and allow us to compete globally to market our continent as a business events destination. Meetings Africa carries our true African spirit ‘I am because you are’. It’s a positive start and we have only just begun to scratch the surface of our theme.” said Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo, SANCB’s chief convention bureau officer.

Sharing and living within a community is the African way of life. The continent’s economic, demographic and infrastructural profiles all contribute to a viable environment for the ideas of “shared economies” to take root and flourish.

As we immerse ourselves deeper into the Mice sector and become widely recognised as Africa’s number one business events destination, we continue to unpack and encourage more shared economic partnerships that drive intra-African trade and co-create socioeconomic solutions.

We are living in the 4th Industrial Revolution, where the fusion of technology in business is blurring the lines between physical and digital disciplines. This is a revolution that brings global competitors into our markets, making it almost impossible for enterprises to work in isolation and still experience growth.

There’s an old African adage: “If you want to go fast go alone, but if you want to go far go together.” While there is quality in what your business has to offer, building a competitive force that will stand the test of time in this interconnected universe relies not only on what you can offer, but also on what you can offer in true collaboration.

Meetings Africa is about knowledge sharing, a discovery of where your business can go and closing deals with the hundreds of potential partners.